Op-Ed: The Urgent Need to Preserve Our Heritage

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Odisha’s temple architecture is the most important reminder of its glorious past. Temples with intricate carvings and great miniature works are scattered across the state. Old Bhubaneswar houses some of these architectural marvels located mostly in its narrow lanes and by-lanes. The sad part, however, is that we have utterly failed to preserve this heritage. Most of these monuments lie in neglect.

Take the case the 7th century Swarnajaleswar temple. It could have been much better maintained and showcased to the outside world. The temple compound is still unkempt by modern standards. No wonder few tourists venture into the premises. But the carvings on its walls sing the glory of a bygone era when temple architecture in the state was at its peak. Miniatures of Shiva, beautifully carved male and female figurines and intricate floral patterns adorn the temple walls and its sanctum sanctorum.

But some of these figurines lie broken while some others have disappeared altogether. For a student of history and temple architecture the ancient shrine, tucked away in the narrow, winding Kotitirtheswar Lane of old Bhubaneswar, is a reminder of the hey-day of Kalingan temple architecture. But it is a sad reminder with Swarnajaleswar, in its present state, crying out for redemption.

There are many such examples. Take for example the case of Bhawanishankar temple which enshrines a rare reclining image of Parvati. It is hemmed in by private houses with most of the occupants being priests and servitors. But they remain unapologetic about the near choking of the temple by the surrounding structures. The Dakara Bibhishaneswar temple in old Bhubaneswar is also flanked by houses and shops. One of the structures abutting the temple once offered computer courses. But nobody minds.

Urban development department officials will tell you that anti-encroachment drives are carried out regularly. In effect this means the exercise is undertaken almost once a year but these invariably end up demolishing only unauthorized shops which are back the moment the bulldozers go away. Illegally constructed houses are hardly ever touched.

Odisha has more than 3,000 historical monuments, mainly temples known for their architectural excellence. The state archaeology department at one point of time had 218 historical monuments under its care while the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protected 78 including the 12th century Puri Jagannath temple, the 11th century Lingraj temple and the 13th century sun temple at Konark.

Unprotected sites are worse off. These received attention for the first time in 1995 when the 10th Finance Commission allocated Rs 10 crore for the conservation of historical monuments in the state. Work on 426 monuments including 167 protected ones was undertaken between 1995 and 2000. Three hundred and sixty six monuments including 103 protected ones were taken up for conservation during the 11th Finance Commission period.

Apart from conservation security remains a major issue in the case of smaller shrines. There have been several instances of thefts in unprotected temples in Bhubaneswar as well as in other parts of the state. Such cases have also been reported from ASI protected and heavily patronized shrines such as the Puri Jagannath temple and the Lingraj temple in Bhubaneswar. The need for better care of our priceless heritage need not be over-emphasized.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)